OPINION: McMillan sets out his vision for Rocky's future

I wish to make reference to an article that featured in last weekend's Morning Bulletin, which sought to define Rockhampton Regional Council's (RRC) achievements since its resumption of economic planning activities 12 months ago.

The article made reference to a variety of RRC 'initiatives', including its CBD revitalisation ambitions, senior executive appointments and its upcoming major events calendar.

This article provided little substance or comfort for those seeking a definitive plan from council establishing a long-term economic development strategy that will serve to stimulate our economy, build confidence, create jobs and deliver real growth.                                 

Recent business closures and job losses are having a devastating impact across our region and upon our economic outlook.

For the best part of a decade, regional economies who have formed the support base of Australia's resource sector have contemplated the consequences of the industry's inevitable downturn.

RRC's current administration has had over three years in which to consider and present its economic blue-print combative of these forecasts.

We cannot afford to stand idly by watching jobs, businesses and families depart our region.

Council is a business with a huge social and economic obligation, it exists solely to look after the interests of the community now and into the future. 

Local government must take the initiative and drive its own economic development agenda, it must be proactive and not wait for state and federal government intervention.

RRC must be forward thinking and work toward building a strong and most importantly 'dynamic' economy that creates real opportunity and jobs for locals and attracts newcomers to our region.

Flood levees, festivals and executive appointments do not comprise an economic development plan.   

I believe a measure of frustration currently exists within our community toward our civic leadership, driven predominantly from a lack of perceived direction and reactive administration.

Over the coming weeks and months as our local government representatives contemplate their 2016 electoral prospects there are sure to be a series of announcements made regarding new community based projects, infrastructure investment proposals and plans for the future.

Where has this vision been until now?

All of these announcements will be strategically timed in order to build momentum and support in the lead up to the March 2016 RRC polling date.

The Rockhampton region deserves more than flashy promises and reactionary vote winning policy on the run. We need a 'long-term' plan.

Leadership must put party politics and personal agendas aside and work cooperatively across all levels of government in order to establish the Rockhampton region as Australia's 'best practice' case study in proactive regional economic development.

With proactive leadership and planning we have the opportunity to re-define the Rockhampton region as the economic beating heart of Central Queensland.

We must first identify where we are going, before we can determine how we will get there. Our region requires a long-term vision that is not only supported by council but more importantly is owned and endorsed by our community.

Council must work to establish a defined set of "community-driven" economic, infrastructure and town planning priorities before developing a strategic road map that will succeed in delivering upon this agenda.

RRC's previous strategic activity must be reviewed, updated and incorporated into one comprehensive yet concise document.

Our strategy must not only look to further strengthen and support our traditional industries but also explore new and emerging opportunities available in agriculture (incl. aquaculture), health and age care, defence service industries, manufacturing, research and education, tourism and the services sector.

This agenda must remain sensitive to ratepayer affordability, but also deliver the necessary stimulus to grow our economy, attract investment, increase the rate base and improve liveability.

This community driven plan must far exceed the usual local government life-cycle, clearly establishing our regions priorities and vision for the next 20 years (to 2035).

This approach is simple but requires community and political will, vision and fortitude in order to maintain momentum and deliver upon our long-term objectives.

With a defined 'RRC - 20 Year Plan', we will be better positioned to lobby and pursue funding options and leverage existing strategic government initiatives supportive of our region's development.  

Activities proposed under such initiatives as the State Government's Queensland Plan and elements of the Federal Government's Northern Australian White Paper will be beneficial to our cause.

The solution to turning around our economic fortunes will not be a quick fix or necessarily exist solely in our own back yard.

A fundamental element of Rockhampton's developmental strategy as we progress through the 21st century should be that of economic diversification, industry development and establishment of a supportive investment attraction climate.

 An economy that supports an extended range of commercial activity minimises its exposure to periodic industry downturns.

Encouragement and support of new sector development and expansion of existing industries into new markets will result in a vibrant and resilient economy and succeed in providing our workforce with a broad range of career options and experiences.

Council must work collaboratively with other government agencies in pursuit of this agenda, exploring new trade and investment opportunities reflective of our region's unique strategic advantages particularly those opportunities now made available via Australia's newly established Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with China, Japan and South Korea.

Australia is uniquely positioned in both its geographic location and diplomatic relations to establish first mover advantage in these critical markets.

Australia's new Asia Pacific free trade agreements (and proposed FTA with India) represent the life blood of our country's future trade and investment pipeline.

By the year 2030, Asian Pacific economies will comprise over 65% of the global middle-class population (an estimated 3.2 billion people) and nearly 60% of the world's middle-class consumption.

We need to capitalise upon Asia's emerging middle class phenomenon, identifying the products and services these markets will demand over the coming decades and position the Rockhampton region to service these opportunities.

We have huge untapped resources, we live in a fertile food bowl, are the epicentre of the cattle industry and have a geographic strategic advantage to service domestic and international markets.

We are much better positioned than most Australian regional economies regarding our preparedness to commence a developmental agenda with much of the necessary strategic infrastructure already in place.

The Rockhampton region is blessed with excellent road, air, rail and port infrastructure at hand, state of the art healthcare facilities, high quality education and research institutions and access to reliable water and energy sources.

Our region cannot afford another four years like the four years we have just endured. We must establish and agree upon our region's priorities for the future - a plan.

RRC's role will be critical in leading this process.

The Rockhampton region deserves strong leadership with the necessary experience and determination to drive the local economy forward, deliver long-term growth and improve the standard of living for today's community and generations to come.   

Over the coming weeks I plan on releasing (via The Morning Bulletin) a series of industry specific developmental articles that will outline where I see opportunities for our economy in the future and how we might position ourselves to capitalise upon them. I hope you will look forward to reading them.   

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